Minor Detail, Adania Shibli

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Adania Shibli is a Palestinian writer born in 1974. Holder of a PhD from the University of East London in Media and Cultural studies, she has authored numerous essays, novels, plays, and short stories in the past 25+ years. Her novel, Minor Detail, was originally published in Arabic in 2017. The book was first translated into Spanish in 2019. Then came the French and English versions in 2020. The German translation followed in 2022. And now a Polish copy was published in 2023. Shibli was supposed to receive an award for Minor Detail at the 2023 Frankfurt Book Fair and several German critics perceived the novel as a “literary masterpiece”. However, a few days before the award ceremony’s date, the ceremony was canceled, because of the war between Israel and Hamas and after several journalists claimed the story was antisemitic. In response, Fitzcarraldo Editions, the publishers of the English translation, made the ebook available for download -at no cost, and for the duration of the Book Fair- in all the countries where they own the rights to do so.

Minor Detail is a subtle political tale, based on some true events that occurred in 1949 during the Nakba in the Negev desert. It recounts Palestinians being displaced by Israeli forces, then living under occupation, haunted by war, and violence, and how being dispossessed and disempowered still impacts daily lives. In a kafkaesque manner, Shibli narrates how an unnamed Israeli lieutenant kills two Bedouins and captures a third, a girl, whom he and his subordinates rape before killing her -because “it would have been a shame to waste petrol” to return her to her village. and burying her corpse in the sand. This first part of the book is traumatically detailed, and the author lingers on the presence and the perception of light and darkness, of smells and sounds. Fast forward 55 years. In the second part of the story, it is the year 2004. In the West Bank, a woman reads the 1949 article about gang rape and murder. She becomes fixated on the “minor detail”, and from being agitated, she feels horrified by such a crime. She becomes determined to take a journey to uncover the truth about what had happened more than a half-century ago. But how can she attain her goal with Palestinians not being able to move freely and requiring permits to travel from one zone to another? Will she succeed in her bold endeavor and uncover the truth?

This satirical read is evocative and thought-provoking. It highlights the nature of the ongoing oppression and the struggle for justice. You will certainly sense the sadist commander’s obsession with purity and order. The innocence and the pain of the girl before her death. Cruelty and terror can be intensely perceived as you read on through the introspective expedition. Love it or hate it, Minor Detail will certainly not leave you untouched... Have a good read 📚

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